April 6, 1989
On this day in 1989, the Faithful gathered once more at the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park to say goodbye to Kezar Stadium, the first home of the San Francisco 49ers. The original structure of the storied venue was slated for demolition, but not before hosting one final celebration. Thousands of fans paid $30 to wander through the stadium and mingle on the field with such legendary former players as Y.A. Tittle, Bob St. Clair, R.C. Owens and Joe Perry.
Opened in 1925, Kezar Stadium was the primary site for college football in the Bay Area. Fans crowded onto bench seating in the original bowl-shaped structure to watch the St. Mary's Gaels, Santa Clara Broncos and University of San Francisco Dons light up the field in home contests. On September 28, 1940, Kezar hosted the first double-header in college football history with a game between Utah and Santa Clara that was followed by a matchup between Stanford and USF. Kezar was the site of the annual "Little Big Game" (a play on the annual "Big Game" played by Cal and Stanford) between rivals St. Mary's and Santa Clara. In its heyday, the "Little Big Game" drew crowds of 50,000 to watch these two powerhouses battle. Kezar was also the site of the annual East-West Game, a postseason matchup of college all-stars, from 1925-1941, 1943-1968 and 1971-1973.
Most notably, Kezar Stadium was the first home venue of the San Francisco 49ers, who played there from 1946-1970. The 49ers played 157 contests at Kezar, first as part of the All-American Football Conference then as members of the National Football League, amassing a record of 95-61-1. Pro Football Hall of Famers cemented themselves in the history books at Kezar, including Joe Perry, Leo Nomellini, Y.A. Tittle, Hugh McElhenny, Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wilcox and Bob St. Clair. The Alley-Oop, a game-changing style of catching popularized by 49ers receiver R.C. Owens, wowed the crowds at Kezar.
The final 49ers game at Kezar Stadium was the 1970 National Football Conference Championship Game, played January 3, 1971 against the Dallas Cowboys. Though San Francisco was ultimately unsuccessful in earning the franchise's first Super Bowl bid, the game ignited a rivalry that would carry on to the 49ers new home at Candlestick Park.
Following the farewell party in 1989, Kezar Stadium's iconic bowl was demolished. Kezar was rebuilt as a 10,000-seat stadium in the same footprint, with a replica arch built on the west end of the venue as tribute of the original structure. In January of 2001, the City of San Francisco named the playing surface "Bob St. Clair Field" in honor of its native son, who called Kezar home for his entire football career. St. Clair played prep football for Polytechnic High School (located across the street), collegiately for USF and for all 11 seasons of his professional career with the San Francisco 49ers (1953-1963).
Kezar continues to host high school, recreation and semi-professional sports leagues on its field, as well as everyday exercisers who utilize the all-weather track that circumscribes the playing surface. Over the years, the 49ers have held several open practices at Kezar during the team's training camp, connecting the franchise's past to its future on the site where it all began.